With over 380,000 small businesses in the U.S applying for emergency loans to help them survive the financial repercussions of the global COVID-19 pandemic, some startups are using new tactics to see them through the crisis.
Many of these new tactics – products, partnerships or virtual events – have been born out of necessity. Take, for example, biotech companies, who – alongside hospital workers – are among those on the front lines developing solutions to the virus.
Biotech companies are now working on developing vaccines against COVID-19, tests for the virus, manufacturing medical machines such as ventilators, and personal protective equipment like facemasks.
Perhaps more important than the tactics themselves, however, is the way in which they are communicated with the public, the media and the biotech industry itself. Given the overload and uncertainty surrounding much of the information that has been published since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the way biotech companies choose to go about communication is vital.
For this reason, we’ve put together a guide on best practices for biotech companies using press releases to communicate their developments during this global pandemic.
1. Headline / Title
For journalists who’ll receive the press release, its headline – or title – is undoubtedly the most important part.
Headlines should be in the subject line of any press release sent out via email, and journalists will make their decision on whether or not to open the email based on its subject line.
If it sounds like a topic that could be of interest to them, or fits in with the beat they cover, the press release will immediately get one foot in the door.
And, if the subject line is something a journalist can see themselves using as a headline or angle for their article, even better! You’ve saved them a job.
Keep it short, maximum one line. Make sure it will attract the readers’ attention, is easy to understand, matches the tone of the rest of the press release and, most importantly, is correct.
This Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) press release is a great example of how to write a succinct headline that does exactly what it says on the tin.
2. Sub-headline / Deck
The sub-heading, or ‘deck’ as it’s referred to in journalism, will then be the deciding factor in whether the journalist who receives your press release will decide to continue reading or not.
This means it has to serve its purpose.
The sub-heading needs to give the reader an idea of what the rest of the PR they are about to read will be like, without giving away the full story. While also matching the tone of the rest of the press release, it should also be succinct and to-the-point.
If the headline contains information about an announcement, the sub-headline should expand on it. It should also let the reader know what type of PR they are about to read. Will it be standard format, or include an interview, a Q&A or even a listicle?
For standard format biotech press releases, like this one by Harvard University’s Office of Technology Development, decks like this are a perfect example.
3. Lead / First paragraph
The first paragraph of your press release, much like a journalist’s ‘lead’ will — in most cases — summarize the most important parts of the PR in one sentence.
Who? What? Where? When? And, why? Are the questions that make up a fool-proof method to opening a good press release, like this one by BIO.
But, we are currently in the middle of a global pandemic, which for many companies constitutes a time of crisis. So creative freedom to mix up PR-openers is allowed, and even encouraged, if done well.
Much like with a feature piece, PR writers can also use this opening opportunity to offer intriguing details, an anecdote, or even exciting unusual pieces of information which will entice the reader to continue reading on, delaying the summary-style lead for later in the piece.
As long as the company name is included, the rest can wait, provided the reader is guaranteed to continue reading.
Make sure to link to the company’s website for an SEO boost and to increase your chances of receiving a backlink if a journalist decides to cover the press release.
4. Expand / Second Paragraph
If you’ve chosen to delay the summary-style lead, now’s your time to include it. Let the reader know what this announcement involves and on behalf of which company, where and when the news you are announcing will be taking place, and finally why this is all happening.
If you already nailed the summary lead in your first paragraph, take this opportunity to build on the key information points you mentioned and pad them out a bit.
Let the reader know a bit more about the company to get a feel for it before going into details about the announcement.
5. Third paragraph
Now’s your chance to go into details on what challenge this biotech company is solving that is unique to its market, and how the company is going about solving it.
What benefits will this particular announcement provide and for whom? Why is this announcement good news for those who read it?
In a standard press release, quotes from CEOs or other company leaders would normally be left nearer to the end of the piece. But given the crisis we currently find ourselves in, what better opportunity to mix up the format?
Other press release formats could include an interview, a Q&A or even a listicle. If you choose to adopt any of these variations, however, make sure to introduce them with all of the information required in the opening two paragraphs before you start.
This biotech press release, published by Virgin Galactic, shows that turning the traditional press release format on its head can sometimes be very effective.
If you’ve chosen to adapt a standard press release format, at this point the quotes from company leaders about the announcement should come in.
However, remember that quotations should not be included just because. Each quote should serve a purpose.
Journalists, for example, will use quotes in a story to add an original take on something, make or emphasize a point, or present an opinion. If describing the character of the person you have spoken to is an important part of the narrative, use a quote, for example.
Whatever you do, make sure the quotes you include add an element to the narrative or reinforce a point you are making. This Advarra biotech press release is a great one to refer to for best practices on how to use quotes.
Remember, by including quotes, you could be saving journalists the job of reaching out to the source for comment.
This is the point where data comes in. Every story needs facts and figures to support it and now’s the time to slot them in to support the points you have made throughout the press release.
Make sure to include links here to the sources you have taken your information from so that the journalist doesn’t have to retrace them when writing the article.
Next comes some generic copy that will include standard information about the biotech company your PR is for. To get an idea for style here, this text can usually be taken from the ‘about us’ section of a company website.
9. Contact details
Then, make sure to include the contact details of the member of staff who manages press or media inquiries for the company you are writing about, in case journalists are looking to reach out for more information, further quotes or even an interview.
Depending on how niche the company you are describing is, it can often be very difficult for journalists to find generic photos to match the content they are writing about. So, why not make their lives easier and include a photo, or even a press kit that they might be able to use for their article?